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Ukraine ratifies EU trade pact in 'first step' towards membership

AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV

The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday ratified a landmark EU trade agreement that strengthens the former Soviet state's ties with the West, in what President Petro Poroshenko called a "first step" towards European Union membership.

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"Tell me, who will now dare to shut Ukraine's doors to Europe?" Poroshenko asked after the vote. "Who will be against our future membership in the EU, towards which today we are taking our first – but very decisive – step?"

A total of 355 lawmakers voted in favour of the ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Association agreements are deals that establish closer economic and political ties between the EU and the signatory nation, granting it privileged trade status while requiring its leaders to respect "human rights and democratic principles". Such agreements often, but not always, pave the way for future membership in the European Union.

A November 2013 decision to reject the EU deal by former president Viktor Yanukovich set off months of protests that eventually led to his overthrow.

Concurrently in Brussels, the European parliament overwhelmingly voted to ratify the association pact in a live video link as lawmakers in Kiev also approved the deal.

"This is a historic moment," European parliament president Martin Schulz told the assembly in Strasbourg as legislators voted to ratify the pact by 535 to 127 votes against with 35 abstentions.

Ukraine and the EU agreed last week to delay the implementation of the free trade portion of the agreement until 2016 in what was seen as a concession to Russian concerns over EU goods flooding across its porous border with Ukraine.

Among those voting against the pact was British eurosceptic Nigel Farage, who told the EU parliament that "if you poke the Russian bear with a stick, don't be surprised when he reacts". Farage also noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the West's side in the international struggle against against Islamist extremism.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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